New Zealand PM pledges Greymouth mine investigation

New Zealand’s Prime Minister John Key has promised an investigation into the deaths of 29 miners at the Pike River mine on South Island.Warning that it could take months to recover the bodies, Mr Key – who visited Greymouth on Thursday – said the nation “needs answers”.The men were declared dead on Wednesday after a second explosion ripped through the shaft where they were trapped.Messages of condolences have poured in from around the world.Mr Key told local media that an independent commission of inquiry would be established to look into the cause of the explosions that trapped and most likely killed the miners.”We need answers to what happened at Pike River,” Mr Key said. “Clearly something’s gone terribly wrong and it’s now claimed the lives of 29 people.”

Mr Key warned that it could take months to recover the remains of the workers. The recovery operation could only take place “in a way that is safe to those that would undertake that mission”, he said as he arrived in Greymouth to visit grieving relatives.”The country is unified in its grief and hopefully it will give some comfort to the families that have been left behind,” he told Radio New Zealand.Local high school principal Jim Luders said Greymouth, home to many of the miners, was devastated by the disaster.”Everyone here knows someone who’s down the mines and that’s what makes it so intensely personal,” he told Radio New Zealand.As flags across New Zealand were flying at half-mast, the UK’s Queen Elizabeth, who is New Zealand’s head of state, said she was deeply saddened by the disaster.”I send my thanks and deep appreciation to everyone who has worked so hard to attempt a rescue, and also to those who will have a part to play in the task of healing the pain that is being felt throughout New Zealand and around the world,” she said.

Australia’s Prime Minister Julia Gillard said: “Our hearts go out to them and on behalf of the Australian people I give the condolences of this nation.” Australia had sent experts and equipment for the rescue effort at the Pike River mine.Mr Key, who is to visit the grieving families in the town of Greymouth on Thursday, praised the efforts of the rescue teams, which some relatives have criticised.”It wasn’t for the want of trying, or the willingness or the courage or the bravery of those that would have gone in to undertake the rescue – it was just the reality of the situation.”Even before the second blast ended hopes of survival, rescuers did not manage to make contact with the miners – who included 24 New Zealanders, two Australians, two Britons and a South African.Some grieving relatives accused the authorities of being too cautious in the efforts to save the men, trapped underground after an explosion on 19 November.Laurie Drew, whose 21-year-old son Zen was among those killed, said the miners’ families were angry that rescuers had not entered the mine after the first blast.

They had their window of opportunity that Friday night, and now the truth can’t come out because no-one alive will be able to come out and tell the truth about what went on down there,” he said.But mining rescue expert Andrew Watson told the BBC that the emergency crews would have been totally focused on trying to rescue their colleagues.”There is absolutely no doubt that if it had been possible for them to enter the mine at any time, they would have done so,” he said.Officials believed the poisonous and combustible atmosphere deep underground had made a swift rescue attempt impossible.Police confirmed a second explosion had ripped through the mine at 1437 (0137 GMT) on Wednesday, ending hopes of a rescue.Analysts say New Zealand’s mines have a good safety record, and this was the worst disaster for almost a century.Pike River is not far from the Strongman mine, where an underground explosion killed 19 men in January 1967.New Zealand’s worst mining disaster was in 1896, when a gas explosion at the Brunner mine, also near Greymouth, left 65 miners dead. It accessed the same coal seam as the Pike River mine – Bbc